A few weekends ago, a buddy and I ventured down to one of the newest National Parks in the country, The Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. Our sites were set on fishing but this would not be your average fishing trip.
We met in Grand Junction and rode down through the small, western Colorado towns of Hotchkiss and Crawford. The 90 minute trek down was filled with conversation, laughs, and like any other fishing trip, a few tall tales.
After making a couple of wrong turns, we arrived at the North Rim of the Black Canyon. This place is hard to imagine, if you’ve never seen a picture of it. The Black Canyon is one of the deepest canyons in the United States. It hosts some really big walls. It felt like something out of a Jurassic Park movie.
Unlike your typical fishing trip, upon arrival we were still a good ways from wetting a line. The route we chose to descend down into the canyon was appropriately named “S.O.B. Draw.” Boy, did it live up to it.
To make things a bit more difficult, we carried large packs filled with camping gear, 3 days worth of food, and, of course, our fishing gear. The plan was to hike in on Friday afternoon, set up camp, and maybe wet a line that evening if swing it.
This hike is not for the faint of heart. And, calling it a “hike” isn’t really accurate; it’s much more of a climb, I would say. This route is filled with class 3 climbing and arguably some class 4. The exposure isn’t crazy but enough to keep you on your toes. You definitely don’t want to take a fall.
The S.O.B. Draw is approximately 1.75 miles and 1800′ of vertical. It’s pretty much straight down. The national park website warns of “several short ledges” (8-12 feet) and the infamous poison ivy.
There was an abundance of poison ivy; I’m quite surprised that I managed to avoid touching any with my skin. As you can see in the photo above, I am wearing pants and long sleeves. I highly recommend those apparel choices.
We meandered our way down the steep canyon, each step bringing the sound of the roaring Gunnison River closer and closer. A little over 2 hours later we found ourselves riverside.
We found our camp site and quickly set up. I messed around with my hammock bivy, until I got it just right. Meanwhile, Sam opted to do some fishing before setting up camp. Sam’s decision would pay off, as he quickly landed a nice brown trout.
Darkness would fall and before we knew it we were sitting on top of a large bolder, a couple of bottles deep in wine. With the flowing river noise in the background, our inebriated minds spoke from sober hearts.
We shared stories of lovers lost, previous trips together, and joked about how all of our trips have together have been far from easy. It was a great night and moments like that make trips all the more special.
To our surprise, we woke up and weren’t completely hungover. We joked about there even being alcohol in that box wine. Needless to say, we were thankful that the alcohol gods showed favor on us.
We fished the large pool, in front of our camp, before moving down river a ways. There is nothing easy about navigating this section of river. There were many large boulders and steep hillsides to navigate.
I through dry flies, nymphs, and even streamers. I didn’t have much luck. Sam, on the other hand, brought in several more trout over the next few days. I was a bit discouraged. Obviously, I wanted to catch some fish. But, when Sam said that he’d been down there a few times and didn’t catch a fish, I felt a little better.
It’s a tough section of river to fish. It didn’t help much that I don’t have a ton of fly fishing experience and very little fishing experience on rivers. As I write this, I’m a much better angler now than I was during this trip. After spending a week up in Montana, I have a much better understanding of fly fishing and the techniques necessary to catch fish. [The Montana trip report coming soon.]
We spent 2 nights, a full day, an evening, and a morning down in the canyon. We decided to bail a bit early, as weather was suppose to move in. We decided that climbing up the steep canyon wouldn’t be too much fun with slick rocks.
The climb getting back up was mostly enjoyable. It involved some pretty fun climbing with just enough exposure to keep you honest. Despite not catching any fish, I consider it a successful trip.
I’m pretty goal-oriented but I’ve matured enough to know that no matter how hard we work, we can’t always get the outcome we desire. When we learn that enjoying the process is the real victory, life becomes much more enjoyable.
From mountain climbing to fly fishing, it’s the process of gearing up, heading out, and enjoying the day no mater what mother nature throws at you. You learn to anticipate the losses and perhaps, even learn to like them, just a little bit. Because you know that every loss makes the ‘victory’ all the sweeter.
It’s easy to get wrapped up in the romanticism of splitboard mountaineering and fly fishing. Both are activities that require the proper preparation, execution, and temperament to put yourself in a position to be successful. After all, that’s all any of us can do.
I learned many things from this trip, some of which, I probably haven’t even realized yet. It’s trips like these that allow us to challenge ourselves and see how far along we are on the process. I’ve still got a ways to go but I’m a few steps closer.